Britain will face months more under coronavirus restrictions despite promising steps towards a vaccine, Boris Johnson has warned, as he told people that Christmas will be the season to be “jolly careful”.
The Prime Minister said the country was “not out of the woods yet” and stressed that it would take a while before people can be inoculated, as the Oxford-AstraZeneca team said its jab had proved up to 90% effective.
It follows positive results from Pfizer and Moderna but none of the jabs have yet been approved for use and getting people vaccinated will be a major undertaking.
Mr Johnson, who is self-isolating, made the comments via video-link at a Downing Street press conference with chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and Oxford Vaccine Group director Professor Andrew Pollard.
The Prime Minister said: “We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill but they are not here yet.
“Even if all three vaccines are approved, even if the production timetables are met – and vaccines notoriously fall behind in their production timetables – it will be months before we can be sure we have inoculated everyone that needs a vaccine.”
He said that with a “favourable wind” the majority of people most in need of a vaccination might be able to get one by Easter.
And he warned that “this is not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties”.
“Tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.”
He said that “things will look and feel very different” after Easter with a vaccine and mass testing.
But he stressed the months ahead “will be hard, they will be cold, they include January and February when the NHS is under its greatest pressure”.
That meant the need for new tiers from Wednesday December 2, replacing England’s lockdown, with more areas facing tougher restrictions than the previous regional regime.
Under the new system:
– The rule of six will resume, along with collective worship, weddings and outdoor sport.
– Shops, hairdressers, beauty salons and gyms can reopen, and elite sport and live performances will be allowed in Tiers 1 and 2.
– In Tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal.
– In Tier 3, pubs and restaurants will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery services, while indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will close.
The 10pm curfew will be relaxed, with last orders now closed at that time and premises ordered to shut at 11pm.
Details of which areas will be in which tiers will be set out on Thursday.
A plan to allow families to be reunited for Christmas is being thrashed out with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Mr Johnson was unable to confirm details on Monday.
Despite the tougher measures, the Government’s scientific advisers warned they might not go far enough and a “Tier 4” may be required in areas where Tier 3 restrictions are not able to shrink the epidemic.
The Sage scientific advisory panel also questioned the value of Tier 1, concluding that “Tier 2 is the minimum intervention required to maintain any degree of control on transmission”.
The latest figures showed a further 206 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday and there had been 15,450 more lab-confirmed cases.
As well as the progress on vaccines, Mr Johnson pointed to the expansion of rapid mass testing as a way of returning to something approaching normality.
This could include allowing people who test negative greater freedoms and the prospect of a daily tests replacing precautionary self-isolation for people who come into contact with a coronavirus case.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s strategy was “risky” because the previous tiered system failed.
With Tory unrest over the impact of the restrictions on the economy and civil liberties, Labour support could be crucial and Sir Keir said his party had backed previous measures.
“Ideally, I’d like to be in a position to do so again,” he said. “But there are huge gaps in this plan, huge uncertainties and huge risks.”
While retailers welcomed the announcement that they will be allowed to reopen, there was fury in the hospitality and arts industries.
Acting Confederation of British Industry chief Josh Hardie said: “Positive news of vaccines offers a ray of light for 2021.
“But the next few weeks and months will for many feel like purgatory – stuck in limbo between a national lockdown and a new normal.”
Kate Nicholls, of trade body UKHospitality, said: “They are killing Christmas and beyond for many businesses and their customers who look forward to, and rely on, venues being open at this time of year.
“Sadly, for many staff, it will be a Christmas out of work.”
But Helen Dickinson of the British Retail Consortium said: “The Government’s decision to keep all of retail open will help to preserve jobs and the economy and help keep Christmas a festive occasion for everyone.”
Meanwhile Che Donald, national vice chairman of the Police Federation, said a possible relaxation of rules over Christmas coupled with a return to the tier system would be “next to impossible” for officers to enforce.